Lumad hold fast, defy orders to dismantle camps for APEC

So many people are calling out, “Peace! Peace!” on behalf of the thousands of Lumad forced out of homelands because of military and paramilitary offensives. Many of these would-be saviors are the same ones urging “development” of indigenous people’s lands, citing the billions of dollars waiting for Lumad and country from the proceeds of mines and plantations.

Seven hundred Lumad are in town to protest what they say is government’s deliberate neglect of their crisis. Their charge is legitimate.

Sixty of them, including 12 children have been murdered by soldiers and paramilitary troops; close to 200 schools have been attacked or closed, by or on the instigation of military officials.

Human rights violations include giving Lumad peasants only so much time to work their fields – you go past three hours and your are interrogated for being a suspected supporter of the New People’s Army.

To their plaints, the government responds thus:

  • Go back home and then we’ll discuss your problem.
  • You can’t live under these conditions. We’ll resettle you while we look for solutions to your problems. (In Lianga, where 3,000 people have evacuated, there are approved applications for mines and plantations, only pending proof of “social acceptability”. The Lumad are being hounded precisely because they reject these the entry of these projects.)
  • If you don’t want resettlement, we’ll just split you up and send you to nicer facilities.

The solutions address issues that are irrelevant to the Lumad. As one famously told Rep. Nancy Catamco during a tumultous Davao City “dialogue”: Of course, we stink, because conditions are less than ideal. But they would rather smell than die, thank you.

On the actual conditions that fuel displacement, the answer is silence or manipulations to cover up the truth. Read AFP apologizes to UN expert

Who has really acted on Surigao Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel’s repeated statements that paramilitaries are creations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines? The perpetrators of the Lianga massacre are not just known to the military; they actually hold camps within hailing distance of AFP facilities.

The AFP claims it knows nothing of the paramilitary. Yet even as Sen. TG Guingona held hearings at the Lumad displacement camp in Tandag City, he was receiving reports of more operations by the same group – in the company of soldiers.

Army spokesman Benjamin Hao makes a claim – only the New People’s Army oppresses the Lumad. Military officials must live in a parallel universe because the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights has tagged at least two incidents as extrajudicial killings. Scout Rangers were identified as the killers in the Pangantucan massacre in Bukidnon. They even sent emissaries to broker a settlement.

The government of President Benigno Aquino III is pretty much known to ignore problems until and unless these blow up in their faces. Then they engage in spins, enough spins to make themselves dizzy. They stonewall, they dodge, they do anything but address the problems of their own making.

Yes, the Lumad crisis should be blamed on Mr. Aquino. He approved the creation of militias funded and organized by mining firms and assorted big investors, but trained and supervised by the AFP.

Even when mining firms clearly violate regulations, they are given a free pass, especially when the companies are owned by allies of Mr. Aquino. Yes, even when the Supreme Court has ruled on these violations.

Malacanang is in a tizzy now.

Mr. Aquino wants to showcase Filipino “hospitality” for the leaders of member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Aside from interrupting life as we know it in the national capital region, he sent aides at the Presidential Security Group, the Philippine National Police and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to convince Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to rescind the permit given for the Lumad camp at Liwasang Bonifacio.

They have given the Lumad until Nov. 12 to disperse. The Lumad say, it ain’t happening. They will not be swept aside. They will not allow a cover up of the real cause of their displacement.

Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay says the government will not drive the Lumad out of Liwasang Bonifacio.

As Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay told professors and students of the University of the Philippines, the NPA is not the target. The Lumad are. They are the targets because what is at stake is not “peace” but that lands – their lands –which investors need for mines and plantations.

Where the Lumad have been “pacified,” the land dies, said Bai Bibi.

“They want us to go home to die. Because we will die, unless we give up our lands,” she said through an interpreter. “And when we give up our lands, we will also die.”

In Caraga, which the Philippine government is touting as Asia’s mining capital, the lands of Lumad who have capitulated are examples of environmental tragedy. Read: Profiles of Destruction 

The Lumad are bracing for more attacks, this time in the national capital. Their many supporters, who have vowed to stand with them, will be taking turns hosting activities at the Liwasang Bonifacio.

The equation is simple to Bai Bibi. They refuse to die. They refuse to yield. The only recourse is to fight back.

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